Brookhaven enjoyed special status in DC through Cochran, and may enjoy more
While the retirement announcement of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran was no surprise, as his health has been declining in recent months, the Brookhaven connections to the nation’s second longest-serving senator and powerful Appropriations Committee chairman over the years might be a surprise to many.
You see, Lincoln County was one of only three counties Cochran won in his historic 1972 Fourth Congressional District election.
Historic, because Cochran became the first Mississippi Republican congressman in 100 years, breaking the grip Democrats had held since after the Civil War and marking the beginning of a viable two-party system in the state.
Cochran held the seat for three terms before winning his Senate post in 1978, previously held by Sen. Jim Eastland.
The 1972 congressional election was a long shot at best, but it succeeded under the guiding hand of Cochran’s campaign manager, the late Alvin Smith, a Brookhaven native. Cochran and Smith were long-time Ole Miss friends that pulled together the upset win over state Sen. Ellis Borden, D-Vicksburg.
Brookhaven businessman Mike Parker won the seat in 1992 as a Democrat before switching parties in 1995. He held the seat until he chose to not seek re-election in 1998, a decision he made to focus on a run for governor. He lost in an extremely tight race against Ronnie Musgrove in 1999.
Brookhaven and Lincoln County hold a special place in Cochran’s heart, due to that support in 1972 as well as his friendship with Alvin Smith and others, putting our community in the enviable position of having strong political clout in Washington all these years.
The Brookhaven connection also included one of Brookhaven’s beloved citizens — the late mayor Doug Sullivan, who managed Cochran’s Mississippi office in the late 1990s. So, too, did many a Brookhaven and Lincoln County college student have the opportunity to serve as an intern in the senator’s office on Capitol Hill.
But if political rumors are to be believed, the Brookhaven connection to Cochran could extend further. It is rumored Gov. Phil Bryant is looking to fill Cochran’s seat, which will be vacant upon the senator’s retirement April 1, by twisting very hard on the arm of another Lincoln Countian — state agriculture commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith.
Rumors have it Hyde-Smith has even received a few urging phone calls from the President in the past week.
Political history will again have been made should Hyde-Smith accept the challenge, as she would be the first woman from Mississippi to serve in Washington. Should she accept, she would begin serving immediately, but would face a special election in November.
Political pundits give the agriculture commissioner high marks in electability in the special election due her name recognition statewide, as well as her support from women.
The question is whether or not alt-right Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel will jump out of his recently-announced race against incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and, instead, into the special election for Cochran’s open seat.
You can bet the governor will not appoint McDaniel. Expect political gamesmanship by Bryant, who will likely delay his appointment decision until the last minute in order to force McDaniel to stay in the race against Wicker, who holds the edge.
For Brookhaven and Lincoln County, the possibility of a Hyde-Smith appointment adds extra drama, with state Sen. Sally Doty’s run for the Third Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper.
The possibility exists, and the stars are possibly aligning, to make Lincoln County home to both a U.S. senator and a U.S. congresswoman.
Bill Jacobs is a Brookhaven businessman and the former owner of The Daily Leader.